Time and again in my visit to Hungary this last week I heard members of the Jewish community deplore the move to ‘equivalence.’
Lots of Hungarians supported the Nazis and saw the Soviet occupation as unwelcome. The Jews, on the other hand, saw the Soviets as liberators and life-savers. So there's a debate in Hungarian society on whether there's an equivalency (or worse) between fascist rule and communist rule. When I visited a museum in Budapest there were some fascinating attempts (seen here) to make a direct equivalence between Nazi terror and Communist terror.
The uniforms, rotating between the fascist Arrow Cross and the Communist police, was particularly graphic.
It’s ok, I think, to insist that there were atrocities committed by the Communists (there were) and to say that the lack of respect for human life in Communist times was appallingly low (it was). But to jump from there to say that, essentially, there was no difference between the Fascists and the Communists, is too far.
To jump even further, and claim that Hungary was the victim of foreign occupiers – ignoring the dedication and enthusiasm of many Hungarians from the right and left to turn to evil – is also pretty unjustified.
So what you have here is a sleight of hand. First you equate Fascism with Communism, and then you say that both are foreign intrusions. Hungary ends up bearing no responsibility.
This is the challenge that the organized Jewish community faces today. If the Holocaust Death Camp is “the same as” the Communist Gulag - there’s not only a moral failure here, there’s also never going to be a genuine move in Hungary to full reparation of stolen Jewish property and a decent reckoning with their past and responsibility.